Successful leader forges her own path

Ranjana Patel

Despite New Zealand ranking among the top Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, women in New Zealand continue to face barriers to their economic empowerment. New Zealand women are still being paid less than men, even although our gender pay-gaps are some of the lowest in the Asia-Pacific region.  New Zealand women spend nearly double the amount of time in unpaid work such as care-giving and housework, and are hugely under-represented in decision-making areas such as chief executive and governance roles.

As we approach International Women’s Day on 8 March 2015, a global celebration of women, it’s time to raise the visibility of women who are working to make a lasting impact for good in their country and contributing to long-term economic gains for New Zealand women.

One of these women is social entrepreneur, Ranjna Patel. She has spent the past thirty-eight years sowing long-term change in her community. Ranjna and her husband, Kantilal Patel, built one of New Zealand’s largest primary health organisations, Nirvana Heath Group, from an original sole-GP practice in 1977.

From the beginning, the focus was on helping underserved lower socio-economic groups, starting in South Auckland, and creating a sustainable model where children attend for free and adults pay no more than $10 to visit their GP. Nirvana remains the largest low-cost provider of GP services in the country.

Ranjna says her leadership style is very unusual. Without a formal business or financial management education, she married at 18 and worked as the receptionist in her husband’s GP practice, and grew into a leader and entrepreneur as the business expanded.

Ranjna Patel (centre) with Police at the opening of the Ghandi Nivas early intervention safe house in Auckland, New Zealand

Ranjna Patel (centre) with Police at the opening of the Ghandi Nivas early intervention safe house in Auckland, New Zealand

Ranjna has developed her own leadership style which she calls “family-based”. Her focus is on the values people use within their own families – rewards, discipline and recognising people for their own individual contribution.

As a third-generation Kiwi Indian, Ranjna says one of the areas where she’s differed is in her work ethic. She says it’s usual in her culture to work a 15-16 hour day, something that differs from the traditional 8-hour working day in New Zealand.

Across the board, Ranjna’s staff speak more than 26 languages and in 2014, she was presented with the ‘Walk the Talk’ Award at the 2014 EEO Trust Diversity Awards for her success at managing a diverse workforce. During the same year, she was inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Fame for Women Entrepreneurs by Co. of Women, and also holds a Queen’s Service Medal.

Ranjna has regularly contributed to her local community through multiple charity roles. Her latest focus is on looking at strategies to end violence against women.  She firmly believes that  targeting the perpetrators of violence should play a key role in providing a solution to end it, and is currently involved in launching New Zealand’s first early intervention accommodation for South Asian men who have been issued protection orders. The accommodation gives men a temporary place to stay, but more importantly a space where professionals can work with them. The first house is now operating in Auckland with a goal to prevent future offending and further violence against women.

Ranjna says she has now made her “Day of Independence” where she can do what she wants, when she wants and how she wants, with trust that the business she has built is now flourishing and sustainable.

International Women’s Day Cocktail Evening

Ranjna Patel was key-note speaker at the International Women’s Day Cocktail Evening on 5 March 2015 in Wellington. All proceeds went to supporting Daya Trust’s working globally empowering women and girls through education.

Learn more about the event here

International Women’s Day Cocktail Evening (Wellington, New Zealand)